In the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountains in northern New Mexico is the historic town of Taos. The northern boundary, the Taos Pueblo – believed to be one of America’s oldest continually inhabited communities – has been occupied for a thousand years. In recent generations it has made its name as a laid-back arts colony, but since the 1990s, the town has become even more famous for the Taos Hum.
In the early 1990s, a group of Taos residents reported hearing an incessant, low-grade drone. Unlike other natural and man-made noises, this odd New Mexico hum has the peculiar distinction of being heard by a relatively small percentage of the population, sparking a debate on the very nature of its existence.
In the realm of science, phenomena that are currently unexplained do not necessarily remain beyond explanation. Consider how lightning, once a profound mystery in past centuries, is now well understood. Similarly, the hum of Taos currently eludes explanation, remaining an enigma – for the time being at least.
After studying the Taos Hum, a joint research project by the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Phillips Laboratory (part of the US Air Force Research Laboratory) and Sandia National Laboratories, using highly sensitive and sophisticated sound equipment to monitor acoustic, seismic and electromagnetic energy, was reported to have been concluded with, ‘we are left with a mystery.’
Let’s take a trip out to New Mexico in an attempt to shed some light on the baffling Taos humming noise.
A Hum-Dinger of a Mystery
The Taos Hum phenomenon is not just a local curiosity, but one of several unexplained hums heard in various parts of the world. Yet the hum of Taos has become emblematic, representing a compelling case study in the field of acoustic phenomena.
The sound, reported by those who can hear it, typically hovers between the frequencies of 32 Hz and 80 Hz, however it’s a little bit of a misnomer to call it a hum, in the sense one would recognise someone humming a tune, for example. Describing it as a ‘hum’ is more of an umbrella term for a noise that can be heard but not easily identified.
Adding another layer of intrigue to the New Mexico hum is the fact that only around two percent of the local population can hear it, while descriptions of the noise vary wildly.
Some have described it as sounding like a low-rumbling diesel engine idling in the distance. Others have suggested it resembles a jet stream, the whir of a fan, a swarm of bees or a cicada-like hiss. The more musically-minded residents of Taos, those that can hear the noise, say it’s in the note of E-flat. A local poet called it ‘the frequency of love – it’s just there – like gravity.’
Yet for those living in Taos, New Mexico hum noises are divisive. In the most extreme cases, people have moved away while others say it’s meditative and calming.
While there are disagreements on what it is, what it sounds like, where it comes from, and how it makes people feel, there’s universal agreement that the Taos Hum is a perplexing mystery.
The Science Bit…
Humans typically have an audible range that spans from about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz), although this range can vary widely between individuals and tends to decrease with age.
Lower frequencies below 20 Hz can sometimes be felt as vibrations rather than heard as sound, and while the reported frequency range of the Taos humming noise – 32 Hz to 80 Hz – falls within the audible spectrum for humans, it is on the lower end of that spectrum.
Sounds at these frequencies are considered low-pitched and are often described as rumbling or droning, which aligns with descriptions of the Taos Hum. Most people are more sensitive to frequencies in the middle of the audible range, around 500 Hz to 4,000 Hz (4kHz), where the human voice and many musical instruments are centred, which is why the low-frequency nature of the Taos Hum makes it particularly notable and, for those who can hear it, potentially more distracting or disturbing.
Humming All Over the World
The New Mexico hum is just one of several similar phenomena reported around the globe.
In the 1970s, residents of Bristol in the west of the UK reported a low, rumbling noise and went so far as to complain to the local council. Since then, hums in the New Zealand city of Auckland, Largs in Scotland, the cities of Frankfurt and Darmstadt in Germany, Bondi in Australia, and in St Louis, Missouri, have all been reported, but perhaps the most famous was the Windsor Hum.
Originating near Windsor, Ontario in Canada – directly across from Detroit, Michigan on the American side of the Detroit River – this hum gained notoriety around 2011. Investigations pointed towards operations on the heavily industrialised Zug Island in Detroit’s southern city limits as a potential source, but the exact cause has never been conclusively identified.
Like the Taos, New Mexico hum, these hums often share common characteristics. They are typically low frequency, persistent, and only audible to a subset of the population. The specific causes of these hums have been attributed to a variety of sources, such as industrial equipment, high-pressure gas lines, electrical power lines, and even natural geological phenomena. However, despite extensive research, many of these sounds have eluded a definitive explanation, leaving them as frustrating and mysterious as when they were first reported.
What is the Taos Hum?
Much of humankind lives in a constant ocean of background noise and much of it goes unnoticed until people start to focus and hone in on particular sounds. Like other mysterious hums reported worldwide, the Taos humming noise has been the subject of much speculation and investigation. The theories about its source range from scientifically grounded hypotheses to fringe theories and those of a more outlandish nature.
One of the more mundane explanations is that the Taos Hum could be an amalgamation of sounds from industrial machinery, such as engines and compressors, which might emit noise at low frequencies that can travel long distances across flat plains with very little in the way of obstacles.
It’s possible that particular geological formations or atmospheric conditions could create standing waves or acoustic resonances that are audible to some people.
Tinnitus or Spontaneous Otoacoustic Emissions
For some individuals, the hum may be a form of tinnitus, a perception of sound in the absence of an external source. Similarly, the ear itself can sometimes produce sounds known as spontaneous otoacoustic emissions, which might be mistaken for external noise.
Certain equipment or installations that emit electromagnetic fields could theoretically generate audible sound under the right conditions, though this has not been demonstrated conclusively in relation to the Hum of Taos.
Moving into the realm of less common theories, infrasound – sound waves with frequencies below the lower limit of human audibility – is one of the suggestions that has been put forward as a reason why so few people can hear the Taos Hum, and there are also theories about the natural vibrations of the Earth and psychoacoustic phenomena. This posits a perceptual anomaly where certain individuals are more sensitive to specific low-frequency sounds, possibly due to unique physiological or neurological characteristics.
There are also, as with all unexplained mysteries, a range of more outlandish theories about the true nature of the Taos Hum. Among these are a range of ideas that push the boundaries of accepted understanding of this strange phenomena.
Some believe that the hum could be the result of secretive military experiments with new technology, such as communications with submarines or other clandestine research. The Pacific coast to the west is roughly 750 miles away, and the Gulf of Mexico to the east is a thousand miles away. Therefore any theories about the New Mexico hum that might involve marine influences are highly unlikely.
Alien or Extraterrestrial Technology
At the far end of the spectrum, some suggest the hum could be related to extraterrestrial activity or technology that’s being tested or used on Earth, beyond the understanding of ordinary humans.
One of the edgier theories is that the hum is a form of psychological manipulation or warfare being covertly tested on the population.
There’s also speculation that the Taos Hum could be an unintended byproduct of a vast, global surveillance system that uses low-frequency sound waves.
Despite the range of theories, no one has yet been able to prove conclusively what causes the Hum of Taos. Scientific investigations wax and wane, but as with many such phenomena, the absence of a clear explanation leaves room for speculation to flourish. It’s a compelling mystery that captures the imagination and fuels both scientific curiosity and fringe speculation alike.
In Search of Silence: The Enduring Mystery of the Taos Hum
As the sun sets over the mesas of New Mexico, the persistent murmur known as the Taos Hum remains an unresolved symphony of the inexplicable. Despite the range of theories from the scientifically plausible to the edge of understanding, the source of this acoustic enigma remains elusive, defying the concerted efforts of scientists, researchers, and curious locals.
The Taos, New Mexico hum stands as a testament to the Earth’s vast array of mysteries that still escape understanding. Whether a byproduct of natural phenomena, a quirk of human perception, or a riddle engineered from sources unknown, the Taos Hum leaves an audible trail of questions unanswered in the desert air.